GO TO PREVIOUS SECTION: September 11 to September 17
PART V, continued
September 18th to September 24th
September 18, 2005
“A session with your girlfriend lasts for twenty minutes, but a win in the National Football League is a thrill that lasts an entire week. And what a thrill.”
---George Stanley Halas, AKA “Papa Bear”
Founder of the Chicago Bears and the NFL
Week 2 of the National Football League features the Bears’ first divisional game of the season, as well as their first home game. It’s a matchup with the Detroit Lions, a team that we should clearly be better than, even though they swept us last year. My parents are going to another wedding today—yet another friend’s—and so while I want to watch the game with them, they are going to leave midway through the third. So I decide to go over to Tony’s house and watch the game with him and Ben.
At a quarter to 12, I am finally ready to hop in the car and head down to Rogers Park, but then Ben calls…
“I’m still up in Lake Forest. I can’t get in touch with Tony.”
So that didn’t work out. But the good news is that I get to watch (at least some of) the game with Dad, always a treat.
“Yo Pop, I’m staying here.”
“Tony’s not around. Ben’s staying in Lake Forest.”
“Does he want to come over here?”
“No. He said that he’s going to stay there and do some work.”
“Alrighty. Just you and me then.”
I smile. “Just you and me.”
“Ooh!” he yells suddenly, darting over to the cabinet above the fridge. “I got something good for us.” He grabs a box of Snackwells cookies, the chocolate ones with the little layer of marshmallow in the middle. There was a time when Dad and I would go shopping together, and though he was in his middle-aged “I need to start eating right and getting healthy” phase, I could always coax him into getting a box of these cookies, which the two of us would then destroy as soon as we got home so that Mom would not find out.
“Ooh! Snackwells!” I say.
The Bears kick off to start, the yell of the fired-up crowd intensifying as Brien’s foot connects with the ball, and then again as the Bear defenders bring down the return man. Shortly into the game, Bears DT Ian Scott gets his hands on a Joey Harrington pass. He bats it down, but it gets pin-balled between Scott and the O-lineman, and Scott plucks the ball for the pick, the first turnover of the game. Amped by the turnover—and not to be outdone—the Bears offense advances the ball down the field with a professional confidence, scoring on a beautiful Thomas Jones run.
“Yeah! He’s in!” we both yell.
“Oh man, what a run.”
“Take a cookie to celebrate.” He hands me one.
“Mick! Come see this run.” Mom is around the house getting ready, popping in every so often to see what’s happening.
“What’s all the yelling about?”
“Bears just scored a touchdown.”
“Check out the replay.”
“Oh wow. He just dove right in there.” She walks away. “Keep me posted.”
The Bears kick off, and on Detroit’s very first play, Harrington hits Roy Williams down the sideline for a touchdown.
“Here we go,” Dad says. “It’s gonna be a shootout.”
“No.” I am defiant. I’ve got a feeling about this one. “I’ve got a feeling about this one,” I say. “We are gonna put this thing on lock down the rest of the way. I’ve got a feeling.”
And sure enough, as the Lions’ Remy Hamilton kicks the extra point, the Bears D-line gets a good push and blocks the kick. 7-6 Bears, and we never look back. On the Bears’ next possession, Doug Brien hits a 49-yard field goal, his first as a Bear. (Me: “Pass me a cookie.” Dad: “No. Only after touchdowns. Field goals are failure.”) After some punts from both teams and a missed field goal by Brien, the Lions punt to third-year receiver Bobby Wade, a guy in the #2 receiver lump with Gage, Berrian, and the rook Bradley. Wade was inactive a week ago, a decision that must have upset him more than he let on, but he was a pro, is a pro, and as he fields that punt in the second quarter, finds the seam, takes off down the left sideline with the Soldier Field fans screaming and waving and cheering him, he must have been thinking to himself in as professional manner as possible: “Deactivate this.”
“Hey,” Dad says, and when I look at him on his “hey” I see a cookie flying towards me.
Detroit’s next possession is going well enough, as Harrington and the Lions drive to the Bears’ twelve. But on third and 3, Harrington and the receiver Williams have a miscommunication, Williams running a slant and Harrington throwing a fade. Vasher leaps and easily makes the pick. Down the field we go, a beautiful seven play, 80-yard drive, capped off by a 28-yard TD strike from Orton to Muhammad. 24-6 Bears, just under two minutes to play in the half.
“OH YES! Yes! Touchdown!” we both yell.
Now we’re slumping. Not the Bears, of course, who are putting on a beatdown the likes of which I haven’t seen since…since…well, the first game that comes to mind is a 47-17 sha-lacking of Tampa in ’93, and then the playoff game against Minnesota in ’94, and perhaps one of those freakish Miller to Robinson games in ’99, but I can’t think of a game in which everything actually came together this well. No, it’s not the Bears who are slumping, but me and Dad, who are laboring through our third cookie in about a half hour or so.
“We may have picked the wrong game to begin this tradition,” I say.
“This is the business we’ve chosen.”
But even as we force-feed ourselves cookie the third, we are all kinds of happy, having just witnessed a wonderful example of offensive execution. It is the kind of play that, as a Bears fan, you forget exists after a while. The kind of play that only takes place on other people’s teams in other people’s games. Muhammad ran a ten-yard slant towards the middle of the field, beating corner Fernando Bryant to the inside. By the time they were in the endzone, Moose had Bryant totally sealed off on the backside of his shoulder, and Orton put the ball right in his gut. Meanwhile, the big-hitting safety Kenoy Kennedy was coming over from the other side of the field to help on the play, and as soon as Moose caught the ball, Kennedy laid into him shoulder-first with a vicious blow intended to either jar the ball loose, frighten Muhammad into pulling back, or both. Kennedy’s hit landed square on Moose’s chest, sending both Muhammad and Bryant sprawling backwards, but instead of dropping the ball, Muhammad held on, took his hit, and then stood to celebrate his touchdown. Bryant, meanwhile, was knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury.
“Oh man! Did you see that hit he took? I can’t believe that he can just get up like nothing happened.”
“He’s a professional athlete. That’s what’s expected of him.”
“Yeah. But still.”
Muhammad does his little football-under-the-legs endzone celebration, unknowingly setting my dad off.
“What’s with all the dancing? He’s just doing his job.”
“What if I did that? People would think I was crazy. Can you imagine me finishing writing a report, and then dancing and looking for people to chest bump? I’d look like a fool. Do your job.”
“Eat your cookie.”
There would be more. Following the Bears next kick, Detroit opens with disaster as Bears rookie and new starting safety Chris Harris hits Harrington on the blitz, forcing a bad throw that is picked off by Mike Brown, who takes it 41 yards to the house.
“YES! YES! ALRIGHT!”
In the words of Al Michaels: “UN-BEE-LEEEEV-ABLE!”
Mom comes rushing in. “What happened?”
“Mike Brown intercepted a Detroit pass and ran it back for a touchdown,” Dad informs her in the most professional way possible.
“31-6!” I yell.
My phone rings. It’s Meghan. She got a job waitressing two weeks ago at a bar and grill in Indy called Union Jack, and she’s there right now.
“Hey! They just flashed the Bears score up. 24-6?”
“Actually, we just scored again.”
“Yeah. On a pick return by Mike Brown. 31-6.”
“No kidding. We’re killing them.”
“Mike Brown! Number 30!”
“How have the Bears scored?”
“Bobby Wade returned a punt 73 yards for a score, and Orton just hit Muhammad with a touchdown. And then this Mike Brown play. It’s been a total beat down. How’s work?”
“Pretty slow. Colts haven’t scored yet, so people are pretty blah here. Hopefully we’ll get some points soon to get the tips rolling in.”
Like a knife in my side…
“Meghan, I’m only going to say this once. Don’t ever, ever, EVER! refer to the Colts as ‘we’.”
“Oh, I know. I’m just saying because it’s better for tips if the Colts are winning…”
“Well, really, I’m just saying ‘we’ as in Indianapolis. I mean, we do live here now.”
“OK! ‘EVER!’ I got it.”
“Seriously.” I breathe. “Ever.”
“OK. I’m sorry.”
“That’s alright. I still love you.”
“I love you too.”
“See you later tonight.”
“Sounds great! Go Bears.”
“Yup. Go Bears.” I hang up.
“What was that about?”
“She referred to the Colts as ‘we’.”
“Do you consider this a long-term thing?”
The Lions take the ball back, kneel it down, and then head to the locker room flattened, with the Soldier Field faithful on their feet, getting that old feeling again. My folks leave during the third quarter with Dad having another cookie as a credit for any future touchdowns, and we say goodbye again, like we always do, with big hugs and cheek kisses for both Mom and Dad. The second half proceeds as it must, but only out of convention, because the Bears have beaten all of the life and spirit out of the Detroit Lions. Joey Harrington looks miserable, the Detroit trio of first round receivers—Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mike Williams—all look like they’d rather be back in college, and Thomas Jones puts the final stamp on the game with a 22-yard touchdown dash. The final: Bears 38, Lions 6.
I watched the whole game. I know how it happened. I know where things went right for us, and where they went wrong for them. I know the plays that we made, that this game wasn’t born of nothing. I know that the Ian Scott interception was just a batted ball that took a nice bounce, and that the Wade TD was all of the blockers creating space, and that the Vasher pick was a blown read by the Detroit offense, and that the Muhammad score was the work of a veteran receiver with a perfect throw from a capable quarterback who was given time and a clear throwing lane, and I know that the Brown TD was made possible by the Harris blitz and then Brown’s concentration and hands and speed, and I know that Thomas Jones’ 139 rushing yards and two TD’s came from an excellent offensive line and Orton’s threat to throw…I know all of these things, in the same way that scientists know how babies are born and how nature reproduces itself, but to know the scientific how does not explain the ethereal holy crap! and there’s no better way to bring out the believer in all of us than with a 38-6 mollywhomping. 38-6. 38-6! Every time I say it I am amazed, even though I know exactly how, in football terms, it happened. Halas was right: what a thrill.
I’m on clouds the rest of the day. No matter what else happens, I watched my team put on an incredible performance this afternoon. Offense, defense, and special teams, the way it’s meant to be. Today, I watched my team dominate. I watched them make names for themselves. I watched them pounce on every Detroit mistake and capitalize on every opportunity. I watched near perfection, executed with style and attitude, heart and desire. Football, once a week, 16 weeks a year.
I get in the car and head for the highway. Doug and O.B. are on the Score talking Bears football and rapping with fans. Spirits are outstanding. As to be expected, it does not take long before the talk has flipped to the “Are they as good as the ’85 team?” angle. It’s an obvious talking point, and extremely unfair, but it’s inevitable and rather fun. How can you be down right now? Naturally, this talk leads to one sourpuss calling in and giving us the old “Let’s forget about ’85...this is a new team with new players...let the past be the past...”
An interesting point--it always is--but leave it to Doug and O.B. to know exactly what to say.
“We’re always going to compare any good Bears’ defense to the ’85 team, in the same way that every good Bears’ defense used to be compared to us,” O’Bradovich says, referring to the 1963 championship Bears team that he was a part of. “All you used to hear was ‘They didn’t play as well as the ’63 team,’ and ‘Why can’t they be more like the ’63 team,’ and comparing players back and forth. Finally the guys got so fed up that they went and won their own damn championship, and now it’s all about the ’85 guys. That’s how it goes.”
Doug hops in. “Hopefully soon, these guys will get sick of hearing about the ’85 guys, and they’ll go and win the whole damn thing, and then everyone will be talking asking why so and so isn’t as good as the ’05 guys.”
I get back to Indy. Meghan is at home. The Colts ended up beating Jacksonville 10-3, and Meg made good money. The joy of the win still with me, the thrill of the day in every part of my being, I smile at all that is good and go to sleep.
September 21, 2005
Taken from the pages of NUVO Newsweekly, September 21st-28th, 2005:
This column is juiced
By Jack M. Silverstein
I was looking through my old baseball cards the other day when I came across a Barry Bonds rookie card from 1986. People are always saying how different Bonds looked then, though I’d never noticed it. So I took a closer look at the card and compared it to a modern day picture. The difference is remarkable. Look how white Bonds’ teeth are today. They shine. Now look closely at a picture of Bonds during that rookie year. See the yellow discoloration at the tops, and the overbite? It really makes you wonder: Has Bonds been using an illegal tooth whitener that also straightens? Is it helping his swing? Does it come in an affordable easy-to-use squeeze tube?
OK, so the real issue here is steroids, or “roids” as the kids say. Performance enhancing drugs have always been a problem in sports, but with Bonds making his season debut last week while he and other athletes come under investigation in the BALCO case, the steroid problem continues to dwell in the national spotlight. In response to this controversy, baseball quickly developed a new drug “policy” that was immediately laughed at, and now that Congress has gotten involved (don’t they have anything more important to do?), Commissioner Bud Selig wants to toughen his stance. The NBA’s David Stern and the NHL’s Gary Bettman are right behind him, and for their support Congress is giving everyone hearty pats on the back. But give baseball credit. Their new policy is working, as evidenced by the suspension of major leaguer and proven steroid user Rafael Palmeiro for a whole 10 days. Too cynical? Not really. I find the actions taken by all involved to be about as serious as my opening paragraph.
While I agree with anyone who says that steroids should be banned across the board, this current national discussion bothers me because of the circumstances under which it arose. It wasn’t a health issue, even though former major leaguer Ken Caminiti’s death during the past year was steroid-related. And it wasn’t a moral issue, even though steroid use is clearly a violation of fair sport. No, this debate was spurned on by a numbers issue, and the number is 755, as in Hank Aaron’s home run record, the most hallowed number in sports. Steroids weren’t a problem when people were dying, and they weren’t a problem when high school kids were following the lead of their professional heroes. But when Barry Bonds was indicated in the BALCO case, that’s when we became interested, because if Bonds’ 756th home run turned out to be fueled by steroids, how would we live with ourselves?
That’s why the steroid debate has been focused on baseball, despite proof of steroid use in the Olympics, the NFL and in high school sports. Baseball is and always has been a game of numbers — numbers that are valued as much as the game itself. When Miami Dolphins wide receiver David Boston tested positive for steroids last year, no one cared. The reason? Even if steroids made Boston a better player, in which statistic is that improvement evident? Yards? Receptions? Touchdowns? In baseball, the correlation is obvious. A guy juices, hits the ball farther, pads his power numbers, becomes a bigger star and so on.
So now people want to “take action” by littering baseball’s record books with asterisks? That’s ridiculous. Those books reflect the baseball that has been played in the major leagues, which is why Sadaharu Oh and his career 868 home runs in Japan are nowhere to be found. To put an asterisk next to Bonds’ or anybody else’s statistics is to suggest that MLB considers those totals unfairly earned due to steroids, steroids that they didn’t even test for until 2003. Bud Selig knew that steroids were in his game, and he knew the effect they have, yet his league did nothing about the problem for years. They did, however, benefit greatly from steroid use, as rising home run totals helped put fans back in the seats after the ’94-’95 strike. So now, amidst controversy and media attention, Selig and the player’s union have created a steroid policy that allows players to be caught using four times before they are kicked out of the game. What a joke. If they really wanted steroids out of the game, they’d be out.
And really, that’s the question that gets lost in this whole debate, and it’s the only one that matters: Do we want steroids in our games? To me, the answer is an obvious “no.” They go against the basic principles of fair competition, they emphasize the wrong areas of sport and they are dangerous. All that other stuff — the records, the asterisks, the smudgy line between “work out supplements” and steroids — is just window dressing. Get rid of steroids, and the best players will still be the best. They’ll just be hitting 50 homers a year instead of 70. At the very least it should knock their massive egos down some, and just in time. Have you seen the size of Barry Bonds’ head lately?
Getting used to a new city without the typical school environment to fall back on is something I’m not used to. This isn’t like wandering around Dallas or San Fran or Seattle for a day or two before getting back on the road. We live here. And so today, in an effort to better familiarize myself with the city, I head out of our apartment and walk around downtown.
Despite my suggestions to the contrary during my time in Bloomington, Indianapolis is actually a nice city. It’s no Chicago, mind you—not even in my most unbiased and objective analysis could I say that it is—but it works. It’s a grid city, like Chicago, and our apartment is in a wonderful location. We’re right next to the IUPUI campus, so Meg can ride her bike to class, and we’re about five minutes away from the downtown area. It’s the equivalent of Northwestern being five minutes away from the Sears Tower, but with the atmospheric differences between the two areas in tact.
Indianapolis is called the Circle City; at the center of town, where Meridian Street and Market Street meet, there is a round-about with a large stone war monument in the middle. Along with the Circle Monument, Indianapolis also has the Circle Center Mall that connects four adjacent blocks. Just north of the mall is the RCA Dome, just west of the mall is the Conseco Fieldhouse, and a bit east of the mall is Victory Field, home of the Triple A baseball team, the Indianapolis Indians.
I set out on foot, and as I get into the city it occurs to me that I am now officially a part of it, as I am no longer unemployed. (Sorry Hutch.) I have found freelance work at a well-known weekly paper called NUVO, and my first column appeared in this week’s edition. As a sports fan, I never really dig a guy from a different market with clear biases coming into Chicago to tell me about the Bears or the Bulls. Now I’m that guy, and there’s no way that I’m going to write about my teams in their city, which means that at some point I’ll be writing about their teams in their city, which could mean trouble. For now though, I’m just happy to be writing.
It’s always exciting to know that right now, as we speak, I am in print. To know that at this very moment, someone could be picking up a paper, popping it open, and finding my big smiling face and my words next to it...very cool. And so the first thing I do when I get downtown is go to a NUVO newspaper thing-dingy and grab a copy. I open it up to page 28, and there I am, Bears hat and everything. Beautiful.
But as I peruse NUVO and the other papers, I am hit with a mondo of a story from home: Marshall Field’s has been bought out by Federated Department Stores, and will officially become Macy’s sometime in 2006. The headline: “FIELD’S NO MORE.”
Now, to clarify, I am not a shopper, nor am I a Christmas-enthusiast (though I’m not a detractor, either), and so the Field’s move does not really affect me. But a bit of me finds this news to be rather upsetting, and if a bit of me feels that way, then certainly there will be uproar in Chicago, where the name Marshall Field’s is as synonymous with the city as are “Wrigley,” “Daley,” “Capone,” or “Jordan.” I expect to hear a lot from Chicago shoppers, many of whom will reprise the sentiment of 87-year-old Helena Beadal, who was quoted in the Tribune article: “Macy’s should stay in New York and Field’s should stay in Chicago.” I am sure that this will be the feeling among many Chicagoans; as if it isn’t bad enough to be losing a Chicago icon like Field’s, having it ursurped by a New York icon stings even worse. I call Mom to console her, but she’s at school and not answering, so I call Nana.
“Oh hi! How’s Indianapolis?”
“It’s good. I’m walking around the city right now, holding a copy of my latest column.”
“I know. Your mother told me. That’s great news. Keep it up!”
“Thanks Nana. Speaking of news, I just read about Marshall Field’s changing to Macy’s.”
Her voice drops a bit. “Yeah...”
“What do you think?”
“It’s too bad.” She lets out a tired groan. “But it really hasn’t been Field’s for a long time now. Marshall Field’s was always about service. ‘Give the lady what she wants.’ But that’s gone. Now it’s just about sales, about money. It’s really not the same place. It’s a shame. I suppose that’s the way things go.”
I continue around the city. The mall, the RCA Dome, the blues bar called the Slippery Noodle which is so heavily adorned with Blues Brothers gear that I have to go in and have a Guinness. Along with an impressive array—and it really is impressive, and an array—of Blues Brothers memoriblia, they have an actual copy of the actual promotional poster that the orphans bring from place to place, the one that Aretha shakes her head at and that Ray Charles hangs upside down. Amazing.
I pass back by the mall on my way back towards our place, and as I do I spot a jovial black man playing a saxophone. I am not familiar with the song he is playing, but I walk by and say hello. He looks at my hat.
“A Bears fan, huh? Alright. I’ve got something for ya.”
And off he goes playing Bear Down.
“Alright! Yeah! I’ve got some money for that!”
He laughs while playing, and I give him a few dollars and sing along as he plays. People cross the street, looking with a curious eye at the saxophone player and the guy singing with him. “Keep it up! Take care.”
“Alright man. God bless.”I walk away, happy. And then I hear him talking with another passerby, and he begins to play another song, and I recognize it: the Notre Dame fight song. Anything for a buck.
GO TO NEXT SECTION: September 25-October 1
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 Though to be fair, the second game of the season was bogus, as we clearly beat them on a TD pass to Bernard Berrian that was ruled incomplete despite the fact that all replays showed conclusively that the ball was caught with both feet in bounds. Ah well, these things happen.
 I watched that game at my good buddy Julian Lapkus’ house, the same place where I watched Game 6 of the ’92 Finals, the USA-Croatia Dream Team gold medal game, and the first Dallas-Buffalo Super Bowl. Those are the notables. Twelve years later, my only clear memory of the Bears-Bucs game is Harbaugh hitting either Waddle or Wendall Davis with a huge hail mary at the end of the half. A week later the Silverstein clan was at Soldier Field for the most boring Bears game I’ve ever witnessed, a 6-0 win over the Falcons on the strength of two Butt-Head field goals. As we were leaving in a haze of boredom, my dad thought for a second, and then said very matter-of-factly: “That was a shutout.”
 I was in full Michael-Fredo-Moe Greene mode at this point.